A/N: Fourth of six. Group Captain Gilmore appeared in the 7th Doctor story "Remembrance of the Daleks".
The Shape of Things
12th March 1965. RAF Benson, Oxfordshire
"You never take me anywhere nice," Jack complained, slouching in the seat. Jock gave him a wry look from the other side of the car.
"That's because you can't be trusted in polite society."
Jack pulled a face, reaching up to his throat again. Jock batted his hand away.
"Leave it alone."
"It itches." Stretching his neck, Jack pulled at the tie. "I never did like the collar and leash look. Not on me, anyway."
"You're making it worse," Jock told him.
"It's already worse."
Jack turned on the seat so that Jock could readjust the tie yet again. He stayed as still as he could, bracing himself against the car door as Jock shifted closer. Then Hugh turned the car round a sharp corner, throwing them both off balance.
"Easy," Jack said, pushing Jock away from him. "I'm going to get ideas."
"Say things like that on the base and they'll take you out back and shoot you. At least." Jock finished with the tie and sat back to inspect the results. "Not too bad."
"Who's going to care if my tie's straight?"
"They will." Jock gave Jack a stern look. "Best behaviour, Jack. I mean it."
"Scout's honour." Jack raised a hand, although he was a few fingers short of a scout's salute.
"We're here," Hugh called from the front, cutting short any reply Jock might have made.
Hugh showed his pass to the guard, who lifted the barrier for them. Turning away from Jock, Jack peered out at the base. It was like most of the military sites he'd been to; a mixture of low prefabs, larger brick buildings and sprawling hangars with corrugated iron roofs.
"The armed forces could really do with a new landscaper," he observed.
"If it's not broken, we don't see the point in fixing it," Jock said, also surveying their surroundings.
"For our job, I can't think of a worse set up." Jack got out of the car as soon as it stopped, pulling on the cap that Jock had also insisted he wear. "All these buildings and alleys, corners and shadows. It's a rabbit warren." He gestured expansively as Jock came round to join him. "You'd need most of a platoon just to begin to block the exits."
"We have to work with what we've got," Jock reminded him, nodding towards the group of men coming across the square. "Now, remember,"
"Best behaviour. Got it." Jack adjusted his tie one more time and forced his face into a suitably business-like expression. "Showtime."
The officer at the front of the group came to a smart stop, returned Jock's salute then offered his hand.
"Group Captain Gilmore."
He was what Jack had come to think of as 'classic' air force. Slim, upright, serious, with a well-trimmed moustache and intelligent eyes.
"Major Goody." Jock returned the handshake. "This is Captain Jack Harkness, on attachment with us, and Sergeant Jones, my aide."
There was more handshaking all round as Gilmore introduced his staff, Flight Lieutenants Howard and Oates.
"Are you ready to brief us, Group Captain?" Jock asked as they made their way across to one of the prefabs.
"Just about, although I have to say," Gilmore added, giving the little group a dubious look, "you're not exactly what I expected."
"In what way?"
"Not expecting the army and an American?" Jack asked, giving Jock a sideways smile.
"Something like that." Gilmore coughed. "No offence, you understand."
"None taken," Jock told him. "We've just had some experience with this kind of thing. Here to help and all that. Same as you."
"Right." Gilmore pointed ahead of them. "We'll start with barracks number two. That's where we've been putting them."
"Them?" Jack asked. "We were only told about one."
"There have been more."
The barracks turned out to be long room with a low ceiling and beds down either side. Jack hung back as they entered, letting the others walk ahead of him as he pulled a small black box out of his pocket.
"When did it start?" Jock asked.
"Last week. The first one, Hays here," Gilmore indicated one of the beds, "was found unconscious on guard duty. It was assumed he'd just fallen asleep, until they couldn't wake him up."
"He's alive?" Jock asked, leaning over the still figure.
"Breathing. Not sure about anything else."
Standing up again, Jock looked round the ward. "Who was next?"
"This one. Reaney. Then Carter, then the base commander, Group Captain Batts."
"What made you call for more help?" Jock asked. "Didn't anyone just think there could be a medical cause?"
"We did at first. Then we found this."
He nodded to Oates who gave something to Jock. From his vantage point by the door, all Jack could see was a small, black object which Jock examined, then passed to Hugh. A glance at the scanner in his hand told him that there was nothing suspicious about it. Nothing detectable anyway.
Jock was still questioning Gilmore. "Anything else you can tell us? Any connection between the men?"
"No. They've all been in the service different lengths of time, came to the base from different parts of the country." Gilmore shrugged. "If they've something in common, we can't find it."
"Right." Jock spotted Jack hovering by the door, and the hint of a frown crossed his face before he turned back. "Do you have some office space we can use?"
"Yes, of course. Oates will show you."
The 'office space' turned out to be a cramped, oversized cupboard in the corner of one of the prefabs. There was just about room for two desks and an extra chair, as long as only one person moved at a time.
"Cozy," Jack observed, giving Hugh a knowing smile. "Military accommodation at its best." He took a chair and held out his hand. "What did Gilmore give you?"
Hugh passed it over.
"Do you know what it is?" he asked.
Jack shook his head, turning the object over in his hands. It was a perfect cube of some burnished, black material, maybe three-quarters of an inch square, warm to his touch, but he supposed that might just have been from constant handling. Every surface was perfectly polished and all the edges had been smoothed down.
"It's not from around here, that's for sure," he said at last, looking across at Jock.
"How do you know?"
"Weight." Jack hefted it in his palm for a moment. "It's solid but it's too light. Human technology isn't advanced enough to make something like this. It's years ahead of your plastics."
"Our plastics?" Jock said, raising an eyebrow.
"You know what I mean." Jack turned the cube round again, looking for any kind of marking or clue to its origins. He'd seen one before, he knew; it was just a case of placing where. After another moment, he shook his head. "It'll come to me," he told them. "What does the doc's report say about the casualties?"
"All are breathing normally, but there's no reflexes, no reaction at all. They've tried everything, had someone sit with them day and night. They're not faking, and they're not just asleep. It's a very deep coma." Jock dropped the file on the desk. "If it wasn't for that thing," he pointed to the cube, "they never would have asked for help. Did you get anything from that toy of yours?"
"The psychic field in the room was a bit too low, although that's not conclusive."
Jock frowned. "Too low? What does that mean?"
" It may mean that the minds of those men aren't working properly, possibly because of some kind of psychic shock. Or it could just be because they're in comas. It definitely means that we need a more sensitive scanner to be sure." Jack got to his feet. "There's one in the car, and maybe I'll have a chat with Gilmore on the way back. See what else he knows."
"Just about the base," Jock said, standing in front of the door. "That's why we're here."
Jack held his friend's icy gaze for a moment longer, then looked away.
"It won't do any harm to ask. It's why he's here too, after all."
"Stick to the point." Jock's voice was soft but firm. "We're here to do a job."
"That's our job too, isn't it?"
Jock shook his head. "If I can't stop you, can I at least ask you to be discreet?"
"Me? Are you kidding?" Jack was tempted to plant a kiss on the nose that was so close to his. Instead, he clapped him on the shoulder. "It's my middle name."
"Only if your first name is 'in'" Hugh said softly, earning him a sour look from Jack.
"I'll be around if you need me." And he left before the others could protest.
Gilmore eyed Jack with caution. "Yes? Captain Harkness, wasn't it?"
"Yes, sir." Jack smiled his most winning smile. "I was just heading out to the car and I wondered if I could speak to you." He glanced at the two Flight Lieutenants. "In private."
"Very well." Gilmore gestured towards the door. "I'll walk with you."
They walked in silence for a little way, Jack resisting the urge to tug at his tie.
"Group Captain, do you mind if I speak freely?"
Gilmore half-smiled. "I know you Americans aren't much for the formalities."
Jack returned the smile. "I'm interested in why Command chose you to fill in here, while the Base CO's…indisposed."
"Ours is not to reason why," Gilmore said. "We all just go where we're sent."
"True. But I think there was a more specific reason why they chose you for this post. Why you'd be sent to oversee, shall we say, unusual circumstances?" Jack stopped, turning to meet Gilmore's challenging gaze. "Two years ago, Coal Hill School, London. You dealt with an extraordinary situation with remarkable calm." He held the gaze for another two seconds, suddenly able to hear his heartbeat. Then he said, "Daleks."
Gilmore harrumphed and frowned. "I got roundly laughed at as a result of that report. Why are you bringing it up again?"
"Because I'm not laughing. I know that every word of your report was the absolute truth. If anything, you underplayed the, ah, alien nature of what happened."
"Would you have done any different?"
"It's my job to." Jack started walking again. "I'm actually more interested in the man who helped you."
"The Doctor?" When Jack nodded, Gilmore shrugged. "I'm not sure what else I can tell you, if you've read the report."
"I read the report very carefully," Jack told him, not adding 'several times so that I've just about got it memorised.' "I'm interested in your personal impressions, feelings. The stuff you leave out of that kind of thing."
Gilmore thought for a long time and Jack tried not to hold his breath, tried not to seem too eager. They had reached the car by the time Gilmore spoke again.
"Dapper little chap, slight accent, Scots, I think. Wouldn't look at him twice in the street. But up close, when you were with him, he was different. Not quite human. You looked in his eyes, and it was like," he shook his head. "Like looking into an old soul, you know?"
Jack nodded. "I know just what you mean. And he wasn't alone?"
"He had a girl with him," Gilmore said. "Dark haired thing, real spitfire."
"You'd be the expert," Jack managed, and Gilmore laughed.
"I suppose so. She adored him, you could tell. Like, there was nothing they wouldn't do for each other. They never said anything, of course, but I've been to war, Captain. I know what I'm talking about." He glanced at Jack. "Have you met him?"
Jack shook his head. "No," he said honestly. Not that one, anyway.
"If you do, watch yourself." Gilmore looked away. "I won't ever forget those things that killed my men. But the Doctor? He dealt with them like they were pawns on his chessboard. Like we were all just children, not quite understanding the rules of the game. Still," Gilmore sighed, just a little, "I'd like to thank him, for all that I wouldn't trust him an inch."
"Very wise." Jack looked down, trying to force himself to focus on the matter in hand.
"Do you know what's wrong with my men, Captain?" Gilmore asked, softly.
Jack shook his head. "But I intend to find out."
"Good man." Gilmore gave a last nod and walked off, leaving Jack leaning against the car, staring at the ground.
"What did you get?" Jock asked as Jack eased his way back into the tiny office.
"Food for thought," Jack told him, hanging his coat on the back of the door, "and this." He held up the small, yellow scanner.
Jock frowned. "I thought you already had one of those."
"Not like this. The one I used in the barracks was a medical scanner, which just confirmed what we already knew. This has got a wider range."
"It also barely works," Hugh said from the seat in the corner. "That's what you said last time."
"Ah, but last time we were looking for signs of radiation and, you're right, it's useless for that." He dropped it onto the desk next to the black cube. "What it is good for, is finding psychic traces."
"You're sure it works?" Jock eyed the scanner dubiously.
Unable to go anywhere else, Jack leaned against the closed door, hands in his pockets.
"We won't know until we try, but the more I think about, the more I'm sure that those men have had something done to their minds. Any drug or weapon that left them in that kind of condition would leave physical evidence of some kind. And there was definitely something funny about the psychic field in the barracks. We're looking at something that affects the mind only, not the body."
"Which is where this comes in?" Jock said.
"Right. If we can isolate the energy frequency, we should be able to trace it back to the source."
"Are we looking for something, or somethings?" Hugh asked. Jack raised his eyebrows.
"Somethings?" he repeated.
"I think what Hugh means is," Jock put in, eyeing his subordinate warily, "are we talking about a device or actual aliens? Is this an invasion?"
"Well, if it is, it's a pretty pathetic attempt," Jack said, looking up at the ceiling. "Four men so far. Not much of a beachhead, is it?"
"Could be a reconnaissance," Hugh suggested, but Jack shook his head.
"It doesn't feel right, and I've seen this before somewhere." He pushed off the door and picked up the black cube. "I just can't think where. It's been a long time."
"It'll come to you when you're not thinking about it," Jock said firmly. "For now, just concentrate on isolating that energy frequency."
Jack grinned. "You don't have a clue what that means, do you?"
"Well," Jock coughed, "not exactly. But you sound like you know what you're talking about, so carry on."
Laughing, Jack scooped up the cube and the scanner. "Come on, Hugh," he said. "Let's go hunting."
An hour later, they were wandering round the base, Jack holding the scanner out in front of him and frowning at it.
"There's something, but it's too weak, too diffuse, to be picked up properly."
"Do you recognise it?"
"It doesn't work like that." Jack fished the black cube out of his pocket, holding it up to the light. "And I wish I could remember what the hell this is." He frowned a little, then held it closer to his face. "It's getting warmer."
"Well, you are gripping it like it's going to fly away," Hugh pointed out.
"Yeah, but my hands are cold. And it's getting warm."
Hugh put out his own hand, touching Jack's fingers, then the cube.
"Definitely warmer," he said, frowning. "Is it just the sun?"
"Not this quickly, although I suppose it is black which means it absorbs-" he broke off, a slow smile quirking the corners of his mouth. "Go get Jock. Get Jock and Gilmore and his staff." He tossed the cube in the air, catching it and holding it in his closed fist. "I know what we're dealing with."
Ten minutes later, the six men were assembled in one of the briefing rooms of the base. Jack was standing at the front, gently tossing the cube up and down as he waited for the others to settle. He felt like a school teacher in front of a rather backward class and had to resist the urge to look for some chalk to throw at them.
Looking into the expectant faces, he remembered how carefully he was going to have to tread with this one. Jock might know more about Jack's past than he was comfortable with, but there was no way he wanted to have that kind of conversation with Gilmore or his men.
"Everyone present and correct?" he asked, and the room fell silent. He laid the cube on the table in front of him.
"This," he said, tapping it on the top, "despite its innocuous appearance, is an alien power cell."
"Power cell?" Gilmore leaned forwards, staring at the cube.
"You can use it in almost anything, from a scanner to a blaster."
"Blaster?" Oates asked. "Like a ray gun?"
"Yeah, I guess." Jack avoided giving the man his patented 'idiot alert' frown. "Anyway, it's a sign that there are definitely aliens on this base, right now."
That earned him a set of worried looks from his audience, and he shook his head, smiling. "Don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds. Those things aren't used much, only by a few species, and only one of them has telepathic abilities which could have put those men into comas." Jack sat on the desk, swinging his feet over and resting them on a chair in the front row. "The Kirdan."
"How do you know this?" Gilmore asked.
"I have sources," Jack said, with barely a glance at Jock. They knew each other well enough for that conversation to be held in private. Gilmore didn't seem satisfied, but he wasn't getting anything from Jack or Jock's expressions.
He settled for asking, "How do we locate them?"
"It's not easy," Jack told him. "They're shape-shifters. They can look like anyone or create an entirely new face for themselves."
"It could be one of us," Jock said, looking round the group nervously.
Jack grinned. "I wondered who'd be the first to think of that. You're right, it could well be, but they're more likely to look like one of the men in the comas. To perfect the imitation, they scan minds. The problem is that the human mind doesn't cope very well with that."
"What does it do to them?"
"Nothing permanent," Jack assured him. "They'll wake up in a few days with a hell of a headache and maybe a few hours missing here or there, but there are no long-term effects." He sat forwards, looking from man to man. "The Kirdan developed these abilities because their planet was under attack. They were already telepathic but their scientists discovered a latent telekinetic ability, and enhanced it, breeding Kirdans who could control every cell of their bodies. Then they sent them out into the galaxy, in an attempt to preserve the species for the future. Every living thing on their planet was killed, but the diaspora survived. You need to think of them as refugees, not invaders."
"Refugees?" Gilmore sounded dubious.
Before Jack could say any more, the door opened and a rather breathless Flight Sergeant snapped off a salute.
"Group Captain Gilmore!"
"Sir, there's another one."
Jack watched as they carried the unconscious man into the barracks, laying him on a bed next to the others. Gilmore finished with the Flight Sergeant and came over.
"Is this normal, Captain? So many men?"
When Jack didn't answer, Gilmore nodded. "I didn't think so. I suggest you consult this mysterious source of yours. See if it can come up with any better ideas than a frightened refugee. From where I'm standing, that doesn't sound very convincing."
Jack was sitting on a bed, still watching the unconscious men, when Hugh found him, ten minutes later.
"There you are." He came over to where Jack was sitting, holding something out.
"What's that? Oh." Jack took the black cube, turning it between thumb and forefinger.
"They found it near the latest victim," Hugh told him, sitting down on the bed. "Any inspiration?"
Jack shook his head. "It all fits. All except for the numbers. They've searched this place, top to bottom. The only thing that could hide is a shape shifter." He lay back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Hugh looked down at him.
"Maybe it's something new. Something you haven't seen before."
"I've seen quite a lot. And anyway, this," Jack held the cube up, "is more or less definitive."
"They're going to search the base again," Hugh said.
"Fine." Jack was still for a moment, then he stood up quickly, and was halfway to the door before Hugh had got to his feet. "I'll be around if you need me."
Jack strode across the airfield, feeling the wind pulling at his coat. He was right, he knew it. But the Kirdan were generally peaceful, more given to hiding than fighting. Still, five men with their minds attacked indicated something more than a passing interest. It had to be more than just greed or co-incidence, especially since a closed environment like the airbase was not ideal for shape shifters. It was harder to hide where everybody knew each other.
He was so lost in thought that he didn't hear the running feet until they were almost on top of him. And the next thing he heard was shouting.
"On the ground! Now!"
He looked up in confusion at three airmen, all running towards him, pointing their guns in his direction. Behind them, he could see Hugh and Jock, also hurrying towards him.
"What's going on?" he shouted at the first airman, who he could now see from the arm flash and white-topped cap was Royal Air Force Police.
"Hands up! On the ground!"
"Which do you want?" Jack muttered, raising his hands and slowly kneeling down. The nearest airman held position, gun steady, while the second came and took hold of one of Jack's wrists.
"Déjà vu," he said to Jock, wincing a little as his arms were yanked behind his back and cuffed there. Jock glanced at the MPs but didn't call them off.
"Jack, if that's you," he said, "then I'm sorry."
"If it's me? What the hell are you talking about?" Jack tried to think as he was pulled to his feet. "What happened?"
"Someone's been shot, Jack. He's dead."
"And you think I did it?" Jack stared at his friend.
"Someone saw you running away, Jack. You were seen."
"It wasn't me! There's a shape shifter on the loose. Don't you think it's possible-" He stopped. "I don't believe it. You think I'm it, don't you?" He shook his head. "Jock, you gotta believe me, I'm me!" It didn't sound convincing even to his own ears.
Jock shook his head. "I'm sorry, Jack."
"If it's me."
Jock looked away, nodding to one of the MPs who holstered his weapon and started to lead Jack back towards the main buildings.
"Jock!" Jack called over his shoulder, trying to catch Jock's eye. Instead, he met Hugh's, who gave him a helpless look before one of the MPs gave Jack a hard shove, sending him stumbling forwards.
He had to admit that they were efficient. Ten minutes after his arrest, Jack was locked in one of the base's cells, stripped of his coat, jacket, cap, tie, gun and wristband. Under different circumstances, he might have been grateful to be rid of the tie.
He spent five more minutes going over the cell as thoroughly as he could, not quite sure what he was looking for. On the one hand, Jock was going to be seriously ticked off if he broke out. Not only would it be embarrassing, but one of the over-enthusiastic MPs might take a shot at him, and that would be really interesting to explain. On the other hand, he really wasn't feeling too friendly towards the idiots who'd shut him in here and saw no reason to preserve their delusion that the cells were secure. After five minutes, he put the four escape plans to the back of his mind, sat down on the narrow bed and tried to remember everything he knew about the Kirdan.
He was still thinking when the door opened and, more out of habit than inclination, he jumped to his feet, standing roughly to attention. A fleeting smile crossed Jock's face, and he waved a hand.
"At ease, Captain. Thank you, Sergeant." Jock waited until the guard had closed the door before he turned to Jack. "Well, this one's impressive, even for you."
Jack sat back down on the bed, pulling his legs up and leaning against the wall.
"Then you believe I'm me?"
"Even if it had absorbed your memories, I find it hard to believe it could imitate your unique ability to get to people quite so well. I think some of the guards are holding a raffle for who gets to shoot you."
"I'm touched by your insight. When are you getting me out of here?"
"I'm not." Jock spread his hands. "Gilmore's not convinced, and I can't say I blame him. He's got five men in comas and one dead."
"What actually happened? Who was shot?"
"According to the witness, Pilot Officer Baker, he saw Pilot Officer Harper and, well, you, arguing behind the mess. He went out to see what was going on and as he turned the corner, he saw you draw your gun and shoot Harper at point blank range. Harper's uniform muffled the shot, so only Baker heard it. He shouted, which is when you turned-"
"It wasn't me," Jack reminded him.
"I know, I know," Jock waved a hand, "but it's quicker this way. Anyhow, he shouted, the other you turned, which is when he got a good look at your face, and then he ran off. Baker tried to keep Harper alive, but he was dead before the medics got there."
Jack swore. "There's something seriously wrong here, Jock. The Kirdan are not generally violent, and they're not given to murder at all."
"Jack, you may have to face the idea that you might be wrong about all this. What if it's not the Kirdan? Just for a second, think what else it could be."
Jack shook his head. "It could be anything, Jock. Someone using Kirdan technology, using cloaking technology, using some kind of holo-projector. Seriously, the possibilities are endless."
"That's not something I want to tell Gilmore. He needs answers."
"I know." Jack hit his head against the wall. "I can't do anything from here, you know that."
"And I can't get you out." Jock raised a hand to stall Jack's protests. "I mean it, Jack. You're stuck there until Gilmore has proof that it wasn't you."
"And I can't get that proof while I'm stuck in here. Do you think he was taking notes from Catch-22?"
"Possibly." Jock smiled. Jack always felt strangely reassured by the gesture. Most military men like Gilmore or Jock's superior, Harding, kept their expressions as blank as possible, as though that would make them better soldiers. When Jock smiled, it went all the way to his eyes. "You'll just have to trust me and Hugh, won't you? Tell us what to look for. I know there's something."
"It's a long shot," Jack warned. "The scanner we were using earlier on? It was picking up the telepathic field left behind when the men were attacked. It was too weak to be detected then, but if you stand in the right place, like where the shooting happened, it might resonate enough for you to pick something up. Hugh knows what to look for."
"Right." Jock paused, then turned and headed for the door. "I really am sorry, Jack," he said as he knocked on it to be let out.
"Did Harper have a family?" Jack asked and Jock shook his head.
"For once the gods are merciful."
Boredom didn't bother Jack. He spent so much of his life at high speed that sitting doing nothing wasn't really a problem. There was always something to think about, some memory that he could relive to pass the time. But forced inaction like this, knowing that he could help and not being allowed to, was infuriating.
Forcing himself to stay calm, he tried to recall his early days at Torchwood House in Scotland. He'd dealt with the boredom through long walks in the countryside, long conversations with the staff and, well, other diverting activities. He let his mind wander back there, drifting through some of the more pleasant times, blocking out the nastier ones and was so lost in the memory that he only half-heard the door to the cell open.
His reflexes kicked in again, and he was on his feet almost before he knew it. This time, it wasn't Jock or even Gilmore, who he'd half-expected, in the doorway. It was one of the MPs from earlier. Instinctively, Jack turned to face him, taking half a step backwards at the same time. There was something not quite right about the man's expression.
"Is there a problem?" Jack asked, holding his hands loosely by his sides. Every nerve was telling him there was something wrong. Maybe the guy was looking for revenge. Wartime death was expected, accepted, even. The kind of death Harper had died, Jack wouldn't have wished on anyone.
The MP shook his head. "No problem. You're Jack Harkness right? The oh-so-knowledgeable Captain Jack Harkness."
"I don't think you're here to ask for my autograph, are you?"
"Not exactly." Stepping into the room, the MP closed the door behind him, and Jack knew for sure that he was in trouble. "You know all about what's going on here, I've heard. Doing ever so much good."
Jack half-smiled. "I do what I can, especially when it comes to tracking down murderers wearing my face."
"They don't wear it all the time." And Jack knew he was going to die, even before the MP went for the gun at his belt. Jack hesitated for a second, caught in indecision. He didn't really want to get shot, but then again-
Suddenly, it was no longer a choice. The MP had his gun out and was holding a steady aim at Jack's forehead. At this range, it would have been hard to miss. Jack had to remember to hold his hands up and take a step backwards.
"Hang on a second," he said. "Don't you think someone's going to notice if the prisoner gets shot in his cell?"
"Doesn't matter. I'll be long gone. I got what I came for." The gun didn't move and Jack swallowed hard. Looking into the eyes of his killer, he knew there was going to be no long explanation, no useful insights to be had. This was going to hurt.
Jack woke with a gasp, every single time. He tried not to remember how many times he'd been through this. His job had a tendency to put him in situations where it happened, but he'd decided, after the third time, not to count. There was no point keeping score.
So he woke from his fourteenth death on a cold wooden table, acutely aware that someone had stripped him of his uniform. The table had splinters. He lay still for a while, trying to hear if there was anyone else in the room. There were no sounds of movement and so, very carefully, he opened one eye. It would have been effective if someone hadn't draped a white sheet over his head.
"I know you're faking," Hugh said from behind him.
Jack sat up, turning on the table and wincing as he discovered yet more splinters. The sheet slipped down his chest as he moved and he shivered a little in the cold air.
"How long?" he asked. Always the same question.
"Hour or so." Hugh glanced at his watch. "One hour and four minutes."
"Not bad for getting shot in the head." Jack cautiously raised a hand to his forehead. The hole that he so vividly remembered receiving (the bullet boring its way into his brain, the flare of pain as bone shattered and tissue was mangled) was completely healed, as always.
"He didn't only shoot you in the head," Hugh told him, in what Jack considered to be far too cheerful a tone of voice. "He also shot you in the neck and the chest, twice, just to be sure."
"Ouch." Jack looked down, running a hand over his skin. "No wonder it took a bit longer."
"Good to have you back, sir."
Jack forgot what he was going to ask and both men turned as, somewhere nearby, a door opened. Hugh gestured frantically, and Jack lay back down again, trying not to wince and pulling the sheet back up over his head. When he heard the door to the room open, he held his breath.
There were quiet footsteps and the sound of someone moving around. The movement came closer, and Jack could hear the other man breathing. After another moment, the sheet was pulled back and the light was blocked as someone bent over him.
"Jack?" Jock whispered.
Jack managed to hold his breath for a whole ten seconds longer, giving Jock enough time to get worried and lean further forwards. He must have turned his head because Jack could feel air moving across his forehead.
"Boo." Jack opened his eyes and lifted his head, planting a kiss on Jock's cheek. He had a suspicion that Jock learnt new swear words and saved them up, just for occasions like this.
Once they'd both recovered – Jock from spluttering and Jack from laughing – Jock subjected Jack to a closer inspection.
"Alright, are you?" he asked, reaching a hand towards Jack's forehead.
"Careful, I bite." Jack snapped his teeth. "All back together again, far as I can tell. Except for…"
"Here you are, sir." Hugh passed him a bundle of clothes, wrapped up in his coat. "And your boots are on the table over there."
"Bless you, Hugh." Jack put the bundle down and pulled on his t-shirt as he talked. "What's happening? Did my death convince Gilmore of my innocence?"
Jock shrugged. "Not exactly. And the fact that I insisted that your corpse be locked away as soon as possible didn't help."
"Probably just thought you were trying to keep my body for yourselves and who could blame you?" Jack untangled his legs from the sheet as Jock rolled his eyes.
"Put your clothes on," he said, going over to the window and pulling back one of the curtains to peer outside. "It's starting to get dark." He turned back to Jack, who was finishing doing up his trousers. "Hugh found some of those psychic traces you were looking for."
"Round most of the hangars," Hugh told him. "And I did some more checking. Three of the victims were found on their way to or from the hangars."
"You're thinking someone wants to steal a plane?" Jack paused, halfway into his shirt, thinking. "The first victim was found less than thirty-six hours ago, right?"
"Right." Jock said.
"It's all happened so fast. It's not been planned or thought through." Jack left the top two buttons of his shirt undone, sitting down again to pull on his socks. "I don't think this is part of something bigger. I think this is one frightened guy, trying to get away."
"What are you talking about?" Jock brought Jack's boots over, standing over him as he laced them.
"The way the Kirdan work," Jack said, "they're like cells, small groups working together, not knowing about the others. But from what I remember, within cells they keep a pretty close eye on each other. What if one of them wanted to get away? Or what if he'd done something that put him on the run from the others? He'd have to be pretty desperate to pull off a stunt like this."
"So how do we catch him?" Jock picked up Jack's tie and tried to hand it to him.
"Jock," Jack said, looking at him, "when I'm really dead, you can make me wear a tie." He also ignored the uniform jacket, pulling his coat on over his shirt and braces. "For now, I'm going to do some hunting."
An hour later, he was hidden in one of the dark corners of the airfield, with a good view of the hangar entrances. There were floodlights illuminating the central square, casting deep, almost impenetrable shadows down the sides of the buildings.
Jack lurked, collar turned up against the growing cold, watching as the last air crews went off-shift. This would be the time for something to happen.
He shifted silently, trying to find the best viewpoint and stop his muscles from cramping in the cold. There were too many corners for others to hide in as well. At this rate, he wasn't going to find anything until it was too late.
Or not. Jack froze as he heard footsteps coming up behind him. Then he shifted further into the shadows, pressing his back against the building. Empty crates and boxes gave him limited cover, and he was suddenly acutely aware of how loud his breathing sounded.
He watched as a man wearing an officer's uniform came to the end of the alley and stopped, looking out, just as Jack had done. A piece fell into place, and Jack took a step forwards.
"Officer Baker, I presume."
The other man jumped, turning towards Jack and going for his gun. Jack was on him before he could draw, slamming them both into the wall and getting a firm grip on the man's wrists.
"You're dead," the officer gasped as Jack twisted him round, pushing his face against the wall.
"Optical illusion," Jack told him, bracing one knee against the man's back so that he could confiscate the pistol. "They do it with mirrors."
"Please," the officer said, "you don't understand."
"Who are you? And I don't mean your human name. Let's start with your Kirdan one." Jack felt the man tense in his grip. "I know about you and your friend and I want to know what you're doing here."
"My name is Trell and he's not my friend." The man relaxed a little, sagging against the wall. "I've been hunting him for three weeks."
"What did he do?"
"He killed my wife."
Jack was still for a long moment. Then he took a step backwards, letting Trell get his balance back.
"How many are in your group?" he asked, watching the other man carefully.
"There were six. We've been in Hampshire for the past three years. We've had no problems, no difficulties fitting in. It was good."
"So what went wrong?"
"That's what I want to know." Trell leaned back against the wall, head falling forwards. "I came home to find Ral standing over my wife's body. The place was a mess. He beat her to a pulp then tore the place apart. We can survive a lot, but her body was too damaged."
"What was he looking for?"
Trell was silent for long enough to make Jack nervous. He took a step towards the smaller man. "Tell me. Right now, I'm your only hope of getting out of this mess."
"Every group leader has a beacon," Trell said at last. "A way of contacting other groups on the planet. It can also be used to signal passing ships, in case of evacuation."
"This Ral, he wants to get off the Earth?"
"And he isn't going to let anything get in his way." Trell looked up at Jack. "I have to stop him."
"We both do." Jack glanced at his wristband. There had to be so much more to the story than Trell had told him, but there wasn't time. "What will his next move be?"
"I think his original idea was to steal a plane, try to find one of the other cells and use their beacon."
"And Harper got suspicious of him?"
"Probably." Trell shifted his feet. "What are you going to do?" When Jack didn't answer, he went on, "You know what it's like here. What humans are like. You know what they'll do if they catch me."
"What are you talking about?"
"They'll take me apart," Trell said simply. "A real live alien? They're not exactly going to offer me a job, are they?" He took a step closer to Jack. "If I'm lucky, I'm looking at years in a prison cell. Spending the rest of my life as a lab experiment. I'd be better off dead."
Jack looked away, trying to concentrate. He had a murderer running loose among unsuspecting humans, an alien pleading for mercy and not two hours ago, he'd been dead. Things had been much more peaceful at that point.
Trell must have seen his indecision. "You're not from around here either, are you? You know about us," he said. "And I can see it just in the way you move, the way you look at things. No normal human could have survived being shot in the head. So tell me, Captain, what do you think they're going to do with me if they catch me?"
"Send you to Scotland," Jack muttered, looking out towards the hangars again. Then in a more normal voice, he said, "I also think that I'm talking to a shape shifter. For all I know, you're the one I'm looking for."
"And I can't prove otherwise." Trell smiled helplessly. "I don't exactly have ID."
"I know." Jack took a step towards the mouth of the alley. He thought, just for a moment, that he'd seen movement across the open space. He'd wasted enough time. "And that's why I'm sorry."
Jack had a brief glimpse of Trell's surprised face as he spun round and slammed his fist into the Kirdan's jaw. The man sagged to the ground. He knew he should check on him, but before he could do anything, he heard the distinctive sound of a door slamming shut. Giving the unconscious figure a last glance, he turned his attention to the hangars.
Still moving in near silence, Jack slipped through the first door he came to, looking round the hangar for anything that shouldn't be there. The aircrew was long gone and the hangar felt empty and still. Jack stood for a moment longer, listening to the air movement. Once he was satisfied, he slipped through the door again and moved on to the next hangar.
It was when he was stepping out of the third building that he heard it again. A door shutting, somewhere on the other side of the square. Glancing round, Jack risked a quick dash across the middle of the open space, towards the source of the sound. He stepped into the hangar, closing the door carefully behind him. He could hear someone moving about amongst the planes and he blinked, momentarily blinded as someone turned on the lights.
There was plenty of cover here, with planes, trolleys, boxes and assorted equipment covering most of the floor space. Jack moved carefully, aware that the cover worked for his target as well as it did for him. As he slipped between two large crates, he caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye. Dropping to his knees, he saw a pair of booted feet moving around one of the planes. Gotcha.
The man's attention was occupied with pre-flight checks, no doubt pulled from one of the pilot's minds, but when Jack came round the plane, his reflexes were impressive. His gun was in his hand and pointed at Jack, who had also drawn his pistol. They faced each other, the man's eyes widening in surprise.
"You're not the only one who's not what he seems," Jack said, grinning without humour.
"Apparently so." The man didn't look away, but he did drop the clipboard he was holding, bringing both hands up to support the weapon. "What happens now?"
"I don't suppose you'd like to surrender?" Jack asked. The man laughed.
"I was going to ask you the same thing. We look like you, but we're not the same. That thing won't kill me." He nodded towards the gun.
"Snap." Jack didn't move. "Looks like we have an impasse."
"I'm sorry about the dead man, really. But I was desperate."
"You'd have to be. Ral, isn't it?"
The man's eyes widened further. "How did you- you met Trell, didn't you. What did he tell you?"
"No doubt the same story that you're about to tell me."
"It's a lie."
"Says you." Jack said. "To be honest, I'm finding it hard to care. I want you both off this base, preferably in custody, as soon as possible. I could care less what you do to each other."
"Good." The sound came from the other side of the hangar.
Jack turned to see Trell coming towards them. He held a small pistol in his outstretched hand and Jack mentally kicked himself for not making the time to frisk him. The gun moved between Jack and Ral.
"Put the gun down, Captain. We'll shoot you before we shoot each other."
"Don't be so sure of that," Ral said. His own gun had moved to cover Trell. Jack shrugged, standing back and holstering his weapon.
"Well, that solves my problem." He leaned against the plane, folding his arms. "Go ahead and kill each other, if you can. Don't mind me."
Ral cast him a nervous look before turning back to Trell.
"You shouldn't have followed me," he said to the other Kirdan.
"What was I supposed to do? Just let you go?" Trell's gun hadn't moved off target and he was still moving, coming closer.
"Yes!" Ral was starting to sound nervous. "You could have just let me disappear!"
Trell was close now, the two guns barely two feet apart.
"You know I can't do that." Trell shook his head. "Not now."
"Please." Ral was pleading, and Jack noticed that Trell had taken one hand from his gun, reaching down to his belt.
"She's dead, Ral," he said, pulling something from one of the pouches at his waist. Jack recognised it as a miniature blast-pistol, the kind that took small black energy cubes. He also recognised the tone of voice. Trell was long beyond listening to pleas for mercy. Still, Jack had already been killed once today. He didn't fancy pushing his luck twice.
"No!" Ral shouted, retreating across the hangar. Trell let him run for a few seconds, then he lifted the blast-pistol and fired. Ral screamed, his body convulsing in the light beam. Then he fell to the ground, still twitching as a sickening burning smell filled the air.
Trell turned to Jack, who raised his hands.
"Hang on a second," he said, eyeing the blast-pistol, "I'm really, really sorry about hitting you."
"You could have shot me," Trell said, his voice soft. "And you didn't."
"I try not to shoot people unless I have to, in the hope that they'll return the favour."
"You didn't die before. Will this kill you?" Trell gestured with the blast-pistol and, in the fraction of a second that it was pointing away from him, Jack leapt. He slammed the shape shifter's wrist into the concrete floor, and heard the pistol fall away. He'd noticed before that the other man was light, lighter than a human of the same size would have been and after a few seconds of struggling, Jack had him pinioned.
"Please," Trell gasped. "Please let me go."
"You just killed him. And you've been using that blaster all round the base. We found the energy cells."
"Only on stun!" Trell said, twisting in Jack's firm grip. "I swear. Two of the men, Hays and Batts, I didn't have a choice. They saw me changing!" His face contorted as Jack applied more pressure to his wrist.
"How do I know? How do I know that you didn't just kill an innocent man to get away?"
"You don't!" Trell went limp, staring up at Jack. "You don't," he said again. Jack sat back a little, looking into his captive's eyes. "Let me show you." Trell shifted in his grip, turning his hand so that he could grip Jack's wrist.
It had been a long time, and Jack had forgotten how startling a mind probe could be at first. He took a deep breath and pushed back, using the connection to look into the Kirdan's mind. It was disorienting – human minds weren't really set up for this kind of thing. Images and emotions in sparks of colour and light surrounded him. Trell wasn't probing back, he could feel. Jack was free to wander around the man's mind as he liked. It was nauseating and exhilarating, all at once.
After a few more seconds, Jack let go of the shape shifter's wrist and got to his feet. He felt a little shaky, but the brief contact had been enough. Once Trell had also regained his feet, the two men looked at each other.
"I was right, earlier, wasn't I? About what the humans would do to me." Trell said.
"If you're very lucky, you'll survive the dissection," Jack replied, without emotion in his voice.
Jack hesitated for a moment, still looking into the man's – alien's – eyes. He'd seen years of Trell's life in an instant, felt what it was like to be hunted, to be in constant fear of discovery. He hadn't needed to be in someone else's mind to understand that one. He'd felt the grief, the anger when Trell's wife had died and the cold fury with which he'd pursued her murderer. But he could also imagine Jock's face when he told him. 'Yes, old man. Had the fellow right there in front of me, watched as he shot the guy. What? Oh, I let him go.'
He nodded, more to himself than Trell, and glanced round the hangar. The blast-pistol was still on the ground and he stooped to pick it up, resetting the power to 'stun'. Then he dropped it back onto the floor.
"Someone's going to notice the light soon," he said. "I told my people that I'd be here. They're going to come looking."
Trell nodded, not saying anything. Jack gave him a bitter smile.
"You get into trouble again, you call me, ok? No more taking the law into your own hands."
"Ok." Trell held out a hand and Jack shook it.
"Well," he said brightly, "I'm just going to see what that friend of yours was putting in the plane."
As he turned, Jack saw Trell pick up the blast-gun. Then, really quite quickly, the world turned to black.
The ambulance pulled carefully out of the base, followed by the official black car. They drove for an hour, taking some random turns and doubling back on the route once or twice. Then, on a quiet country road, the ambulance pulled into a lay-by. The black car parked behind it.
The ambulance doors opened and Jack climbed out. He waved goodbye to the driver and orderlies, then climbed into the back of Hugh's car. They drove on.
Jock didn't speak for some time, and Jack found himself wishing he'd worn the tie. It would have given him something to think about other than the silence.
"It's not going to look good on your record, Jack, you know that," Jock said at last.
"Getting killed then stunned all in one day?" Jack shrugged. "I guess not."
"Of course, since I'm the only one who really looks at your record, I suppose that doesn't matter so much."
"You're a good man, Jock."
Jock gave him a sharp look. "You made a basic field mistake, Jack. You turned your back on a suspect."
"We all make mistakes."
"Apparently so." There was silence again as Hugh drove them through more sleepy villages and small towns on the way back to London. Jock seemed to be lost in thought and Jack left him to it. He hated lying to his friends, but he did it without flinching. Some things were necessary and after looking in Trell's mind, he hadn't really had a choice.
Only when Hugh finally brought the car to a stop did Jock speak again. He put a hand on Jack's arm, stopping him from getting out.
"You don't make mistakes like that, Jack."
"I was distracted."
Jock shook his head. "I've seen you shoot an alien between the eyes before diffusing the bomb he dropped at your feet. You don't get distracted."
"You make it very hard to trust you, Jack. You need to understand that." Jack didn't move, not sure what kind of answer Jock needed. Apparently none, because he went on, "Make another mistake like that, and you're going to end up banished to the listening post in Lapland. Are we clear?"
Jock nodded, satisfied. "Then let's go report. Harding's going to love this one."
As they were walking towards Torchwood One, Hugh looked over at Jack.
"I suppose we know that it is you, sir," he said. "I mean, we were dealing with shape shifters."
"Then how do we know it's you?" Jack replied, smiling. "For all we know, we could have been driven here by an impostor."
Jock gave them both a nervous glance. "Could you two please keep thoughts like to yourselves? We've got enough problems as it is."
"Ah, but what if we're right?" Jack insisted. "You think you're in trouble with Harding now."
"He's right, sir," Hugh said, a suspiciously innocent expression on his face. "Just imagine how much trouble we'd be in for letting a shape shifting alien into Torchwood."
"Assuming there aren't any there already," Jack put in, winking at Hugh.
Jock rolled his eyes. "Neither of you are going to be any help at all with this, are you?"
"We are trying to help," Jack protested.
Hugh nodded. "We're just pointing out possible weaknesses in the system."
"Would you both just shut up? Please?"
"What do you think, Hugh?" Jack asked. "Would the real Jock say that?" He was still grinning as Jock's expletives followed him into the building. His friend really did have an inventive line in swearing. Jack was going to have to start taking notes.